Tag Archives: art therapy

The End of Winter

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This winter had been a weird one in Western Pennsylvania…

A bit bipolar in its behaviors with a sporadic mix of unseasonably warm days followed by an unexpected 10 inches of snow.

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There seems to be no rhyme or reason to the recent weather patterns and all creatures, great and small, seem anxious and uncertain as to what the day might bring.

Daffodils reach for the sky, teased out by the warmth of the sun, only to be covered in layer of snow hours later.

Birds are waffling in their duties, uncertain as to whether they should begin laying eggs or hunkering down in their nests for a long winter’s nap.

The furnace has had a workout, shifting from air conditioning to heat in a 12 hour span.

And  my 11 year old has given up trying to make any effort in dressing weather-appropriate and has compensated by simply pairing his flip flops with sweaters.

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The uncertainty has left everyone feeling a bit unsettled and I find myself taking note of how reflective our outside environment has been of our internal state.

Ozzie has spent the last 7 months in a residential treatment facility about 2 hours away. It was with tremendous heartache and no shortage of prayer that he was admitted. The year leading up to that decision was unimaginably traumatic for Ozzie and the rest of the family as the demons from his past history of abuse reared their ugly heads in heartbreaking, tragic, and dangerous ways. After exhausting all therapeutic support for Ozzie that could be found in an outpatient setting it became clear that for real healing to take place he would need to be immersed in an environment of intensive therapeutic support. For these last 7 months Ozzie has thrived under this higher level of care. With the sheer volume of therapeutic supports like daily therapies (individual and group,) music therapy, EMDR therapy for his PTSD, and trauma release exercises, he has found hope.

We all have.

I recently had a friend comment that they sometimes found my recordings on this blog to be disingenuous to our reality. Although not intended to be critical, merely taking note of the fact that most recent blogs have been lighter and fluffier than the heavier stuff that was more common a year ago, I have since thought much about that comment. As a mom I walk a shaky line in recording the story of my family. I share not for accolades or attention but for a mix of other reasons. I blog to record our story as a gift for my children in the decades to come. I blog as a therapeutic tool for myself. (The act of telling our story helps me process and make sense of this often hard journey.) But mostly I blog because I feel called to allow others to walk with us in the hopes that our trials and our joys might help you in your journey and that I might testify of God’s goodness in ALL seasons of life. Every blog is penned with prayer…A prayer that God might use this walk to support another in their walk. I don’t share all. Some would argue I share too much, others would say not enough, but every blog entry is prayerfully approached.

Often the struggle of what to write is not a debate of how much to share but rather HOW to share.

That is where I find myself today.

As the snow swirls outside on April 17th, I struggle to put words to the uniquely emotional journey we have been on these last 7 months. I don’t know that I have the words to fully convey the muddy mix of emotions that are connected to this unique journey. Much like the winter we have experienced these last 5 months, our experience with having a child in a residential treatment facility is a constant mix of sunshine and snow, with so many heartbreaks connected to the decision, but also immeasurable blessings. Each day I find myself uncertain of what the emotional forecast of the day will be and whether the hope or the heartache of the situation with reign supreme.

Saying good-bye to Ozzie on day one… leaving him in the care of a stranger… while I drove home… was the hardest day of my life. It was an adjustment for the entire family as we tried to find our new “normal” with Ozzie gone. As time passed the sharp ache dulled a bit, and while each home visit and the returning drive back brought tears, the situation didn’t seem so hopeless. We were seeing the fruits of God’s hand in leading us to this particular facility at this particular time.

We have watched Ozzie blossom under the intensive therapy offered him in an inpatient setting. He has worked so hard in his healing journey, has learned new ways to cope with the demons of his past that will inevitably raise their ugly head again in the future, but once again it is with a muddy mix of emotions that we transition into another new “normal.”

How do I fully articulate the emotions that fill our home this week when we ourselves struggle to name them all?

Ozzie will be discharged this Saturday. He has worked through the program and has experienced a level of success that many boys there never find. He has fought hard in his healing journey. He has faced down fears, memories of abuse, and his own destructive behaviors with the courage of a knight battling a dragon. None of this came easily and each step toward healing was paid for with blood, sweat and tears…on all of our parts.

I fully believe he is ready to return home.

Knowing his discharge date was approaching, my focus has been on preparing for that transition. Outpatient therapies have been put in place. With his return home he will continue EMDR therapy with Miss Tina, Family Based Therapy services have been put in place, and Ozzie will begin equine therapy (horse therapy) next week. Contact has been made with the school, his room has been prepared, and our schedule has been altered to account for Ozzie’s weekly appointments.

Once the logistics of this transition had been figured out it was time to address the emotional impact this transition was going to have on all members of the family.

When Ozzie left in September he was in a heightened state of crisis and his behaviors were threatening and unsafe. These last 7 months brought feelings of felt safety to the other children, feelings of safety they had not experienced in the year prior. With Ozzie’s return home pending, the anxiety in the home has increased significantly as the kids brace for the unexpected…

And while I know Ozzie is returning to us stable and safe, it will take time for the other kids to see that themselves and begin the process of trusting him, forgiving him, and reconnecting with him.

To help them express , process, and work through some of those emotions and concerns, I set up a family therapy session with Miss Tina. Knowing that Rusty and Tyler would be less comfortable/capable of using traditional talk therapy to express the emotions churning within, I suggested we do an art project.

At home we have had a great deal of success with Tyler using markers to express his emotions. When he can’t say what he is feeling he will color an abstract work of art, assigning an emotion to each marker color. The result is incredible. He is able to purge the feelings locked within and I am able to get a powerful visual of what he is feeling, and thus know how to best help him.

I suggested we use this same technique with the other kids at our family therapy session. The day before our appointment we sat down and made a list of emotions that we might all be feeling about Ozzie’s return home and then we made an emotion “key” with Tyler selecting which paint colors would be assigned to each emotion.

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On Thursday we drove to Miss Tina’s office with our paints, brushes and canvases. While the kids painted their emotions we talked through our crisis/ safety plan. When everyone’s paintings were complete we went around and talked about the emotions (and the corresponding thoughts) that went with each brush stroke of color, allowing the kids to comfortably share the muddy mix of emotions they have been feeling. I think it brought a sense of comfort to look around and see that the rest of the family had the same mix of colors/emotions that we had each been feeling individually.

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It is with great joy, gratitude, and relief that we welcome Ozzie back home, but the reality is that there are other emotions that color this transition as well.

Anxiety seems to be the prevailing constant in everyone’s work of art, so as we take this next step in our adoption journey we petition you, our fellow sojourners, to lift our family up in prayer.

We are ready to leave winter behind. We are ready for the new life and hope that comes with spring.

May the storms be over.

May the sun come out.

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Please pray for us.

Helping Tyler Heal…Helping Tyler FLY!

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“There are wounds that never show on the body, that are deeper and more hurtful than anything that bleeds.”  -Laurel K. Hamilton

Here is the question I lay awake at night pondering:

Am I willing to sacrifice today’s comfort for the promise of life long peace.

The answer seems simple, right?

What if I present it this way…

Knowing that your child will battle a threatening, painful, chronic disease 20 years from now would you be willing to remove an infected limb today. Would you be willing to allow pain, discomfort and loss today for the hopes of a more promising future tomorrow?

That one is a little bit harder. Isn’t it.

As parents our lives are driven by this instinctual, basic need to protect our children. We would jump in front of a train for them. We would fight off a Grizzly to protect them. So when faced with the knowledge that to protect their future you must allow them to feel pain and discomfort today…well that is a hard pill to swallow.

This is the reality we are living. We are choosing to allow our son to feel horrible/ heart breaking pain today with hopes that it will save him from a lifetime of heartache in the future. But you can believe I would shoulder that pain in a minute, and save him from one more minute of hurt, if I could.

*sigh*

The walls are falling down.

Miss Tina, Tyler’s therapist, is doing amazing work.

Tyler is doing amazing work.

God is performing miracles.

After years of firmly cemented walls circling Tyler’s memories we find ourselves watching the bricks begin to fall. It all began with Tyler creating a road of his life in therapy. On a large piece of paper we have mapped out a road. Along the road we have drawn in milestones of his life. He is choosing the memories to add to his road. We are working to help him remember his life before us.

And now that we have chipped open a crack in that wall, the memories and emotions are flooding out. And Tyler is drowning in the waves. The result: paralyzing fears, terrifying nightmares, scary images in his head, triggers, tantrums, and tears…so many tears. This past week I have found him hidden and crying many times, trying so hard not to be caught in his “weakness.”

It breaks my heart but also causes my heart to sing praises, because tears mean trust. Tears mean attachment. Tears mean felt and shared emotions, and ultimately tears mean healing.

This week I found him crying in the bathroom. I sat down beside him on the cold, hardwood floor as he squeezed his hands to the sides of his head.

“Can you name your emotion?” I asked.

He shook his head, “No.”

Then he tentatively suggested, “But maybe I could color my feelings.”

Praise God!

I was singing the Hallelujah chorus inside as I gathered markers and paper. He took the art supplies, crawled under the dining room table and began releasing the feelings locked inside in frantic scribbles of black, red, purple and blue.

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As he colored he informed me that black= fear, blue= sad, purple= really sad, and red= mad sad.

He asked me to sit at the table as he worked.

As I sat at the table listening to the sounds of scribbles beneath me Tyler began to talk. In the same manner that he was coloring, the words tumbled out of him at a frantic speed, as though he couldn’t hold them in any longer.

The questions were powerful and profound and heartbreaking. They came from the deepest recesses of his soul and poured out as the flood of memories washed over him.

He began with, “I’m sad my brothers can’t live with me.”

Then asked, “Why did our birth parents not keep us?”

And then, “Was it because we were so bad?”

As I paused to consider my answers, I prayed, “Help me, Lord. Give me the words…Your words.”

I answered what I could and made notes for Tina on the things he said.

The words kept tumbling out.

The questions kept coming, not only that night but all week long…

“Why did my birth mom not love me?”

“Why could no one handle all us kids?

“Why couldn’t Michael just take care of us?”

“Every family always got rid of me. It is because I am so bad?”

“I want to remember what my birth parents looked like.”

“Why did God take all my memories of my mom away?”

“If I remember, will that turn me into a bad dad like my birth dad?”

Oh, my heart broke and my eyes leaked as his heart and greatest fears were laid bare on the floor before him.

And then he climbed from under the table, his paper in hand, to show me his work. It may not be worthy of a place in the Louvre, but I must say it is probably the most moving piece of art I’ve ever seen.

It is my son’s heart.

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“I feel better now, Momma,” he declared with a quick hug and a bounce.

“I think Miss Tina is going to be proud of me.”

I know she will be. We all are, Tyler! ❤

As a Momma I’d give all that that I have, all that I am, to take away the hurts and heal the hidden wounds. I wish there was some way I could save him from the painful journey that lies before him. I wish healing could come from sealing off the hurts and cauterizing the wounds, but that is never a lasting fix. The only way those deep down, infected, throbbing wounds heal is by opening them up and releasing the infection within.

These sort of hurts must heal from the inside out, which means opening wounds that have long been scabbed over. It is heartbreaking, as a parent, to know you must purposely rip off scabs and open hurts that have been sealed off, and allow for short term pain, all with the loving hope that the long term result will be feeling… and then healing….

And then my son will fly.

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And as a result of his powerful example

we will learn to soar too!

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